Full credits for song: “I Was Born For This” was composed by Austin Wintory and sung by Lisbeth Scott.
How much can we care about a digital companion?
Whole games have been built around this question – most notably 2001 classic Ico, which cast players as a young boy who had to escape a witch’s castle together with a girl named Yorda. Together, the two made a team: Yorda was frail, but she was the only one who could open the castle’s magically sealed doors. And it worked: Ico is one of my all-time favourites. Subsequent games – such as the modern Princes of Persia – ran with this idea, but implemented it the same way: your companion was always computer-controlled, and there was a gameplay reason you needed to work with her (for good measure, it was always a her). Thatgamecompany’s Journey is the latest game to tackle this question… but this time, it puts its own spin on the formula.
In Journey, you play a cloaked traveller who has to cross the desert to reach a distant mountain. There is no dialogue, no narrative, and no exposition. Who is the traveller? The answer seems to be “a pilgrim”, but this isn’t stated outright anywhere – it’s something I deduced. Is the pilgrim a he, a she, or an it? I imagined my pilgrim as a she, but that was pure whimsy. Did she have family or friends before deciding to cross the desert? Who knows. Journey’s gameplay mechanics are equally minimalistic: mostly, the pilgrim walks towards her destination. She can use the magic in her scarf to jump or fly, and she can recharge her scarf by chirping musically when standing near bits of cloth scattered throughout the world – streamers, banners, magic carpets, and the like. This is pleasant enough – controlling the pilgrim is smooth and fluid, whether she’s on the sand or soaring through the air – but that’s about it as far as game mechanics go. There is no real challenge, except for looking/walking around, wondering where to go next. There are neither puzzles nor combat. There isn’t even a Game Over screen – it is impossible to die. The overall game is quite short, just a couple of hours. In this regard, Journey feels a lot like thatgamecompany’s previous title, Flower.